A short review of Crystal Express, a collection of early short stories by Bruce Sterling, which turned out to be, not surprisingly, a mixed bunch, ranging from fascinating extra stories in the Shaper/Mechanist Universe, through some run-of-the-mill SF, to slightly unconvincing attempts at Fantasy. Overall quite readable, but non-essential, unless you’re hooked on Mechanist/Shaper stories, or Bruce Sterling in general.
This is a collection of Sterling’s early short stories, which appeared in a number of SF publications like Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Universe, Interzone etc between 1982 and 1987.
The scope was mainly set by story length and publication time, so what we have is a rather mixed bunch when it comes to content – it clearly shows that the author was still finding his feed in this writing malarkey (nothing wrong with this, or course! And yes, I presume that a lot of those were written much earlier then they were published). The book contains 5 stories set in the Shaper/Mechanist Universe of Schismatrix, which also were included in the “Schismatrix Plus” edition of the book. Then we have 3 ‘miscellaneous’ SF stories, and, something that was new to me from Sterling, 4 attempts at Fantasy. Now, I see why he developed his SF writing, not his Fantasy. Not that they are totally bad, mind – I’ve read worse. They just don’t live up to the SF he writes.
The most impressive story (IMHO) in the book was one of the Shaper/Mechanist ones, called “Sunken Gardens”. It plays on Mars, after the death of the Cicada Queen and the establishment of the Lobster King. The Terraforming project is well underway, and Mars is marred by the huge craters where the lumps of ice from the asteroid belt have hit. These craters now host life, each of them its own biosphere, usually looked after by clans of Mechanists or Shapers that have fallen out of favour, money, power, society, technology, or all of those. The ruling clan, which lives in satellites above the surface is holding regular competitions in those, with several of these clans being given a sector of a crater to build an eco-system in, and then the various eco-systems slug it out, over time, for domination, and glory (in the form of re-ascendancy of their originator clans). The whole is called the ‘Garden Wars’ – a neat conceit if I’ve ever seen one, and perfectly executed.
The stories vary from the absolutely compelling to some that rather grate. There is nothing to-curlingly bad in here, so this is a good book for lovers of short (and mixed) stories, for people who want to read more in the Mechanist/Shaper universe, and for Sterling completists.
Title: Crystal Express
Author: Bruce Sterling
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publication Date: 1991
Review Date: 25 April 2007
Price: PRRP UKP4.99